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Putting his spin on it

Mark Farina makes a triumphant splash in L.A., strutting his signature style while stirring up the crowd and old memories.

May 15, 2003|Tommy Nguyen | Special to The Times

For a DJ who started out in the thick of the Chicago house-music underground in the late '80s and now makes his home beneath San Francisco's towering urban-beat skyline, Mark Farina has a remarkable hometown-styled following here in Los Angeles.

Maybe it's because he brings great memories. From crazy nocturnal rabbit holes in Chinatown to the awesome daybreak hilltops of the Angeles National Forest, Farina has spun here and there and back again in just about everyone's body-rock memories. He's been a celebrated fixture in L.A.'s house-music scene for more than a decade.

Want proof? Just check out the scene Sunday outside Deep in Hollywood, where a Mark Farina night typically rumbles with the shouts and whistles of a homecoming. "More than any other guest, I consider Mark to be a Deep resident," says Marques Wyatt, the DJ mastermind behind the long-running club that Farina visits periodically. "He was my first guest at Deep and has been a part of Deep parties all over the world. Older Farina fans really seem to embrace these appearances."

Wyatt raises a key attribute. With underground dance-music culture in the U.S. leveling off noticeably since its boom in the late '90s, it's these older fans -- still avidly loyal to a select few back-in-the-day DJs such as Farina -- who are still creating great times on the dance floor, but at more intimate, more clued-in spaces.

"I like Deep a lot," says Farina. "Marques has a great house-music clientele, who are going to want the music as deep as possible. They know what's up."

The level of "deepness" of the house sound has a lot to do with its breadth -- from a filtered disco track to a sensually calm bass-line roll, from world-beat inflections to an outright funk-soul classic. Farina especially likes to drop that old dance record now and then, a bit of pleasant pandering that's only as inspired and clever as his fans.

"If the crowd is older and would appreciate such things, I'll find old bits for them," says Farina. "I know the Deep crowd is pretty knowledgeable, and [so is] L.A. in general. Whereas if I were playing in Albuquerque or a city that doesn't have a great club history, the crowd might not appreciate the fact that I'm playing something old."

Wait a minute -- maybe those kids in Albuquerque were just too busy appreciating the new sounds in Farina's crate (check out a list of his current favorites on the previous page) or just plain struck by Farina's outstanding hand-ear coordination.

The hallmark of a Farina set is the crafty way he creates ongoing motifs in his mixes. He introduces and then brings back certain aural markers -- e.g., a soulful vocal whisper, a distinct flutter of piano keys -- a technique that envelops each set in its own microcosm of history, where past records plant the seeds for the future sounds of the night.

Farina's ultra-smooth style and love for congruency are even more effective under his down-tempo persona, with which he conjures up a floating sound that fans know as "mushroom jazz," a blend of underground hip-hop, R&B, dub and jazzy fusions cooling off at 100-105 beats per minute.

"Mixing-wise, I always try to keep it all on-key," says Farina, who also spins CDs into his sets, a technically and artistically versatile feat that's becoming increasingly common among former vinyl purists (especially since more quality demos are being found on CDs than on 12-inch vinyl). "But I try to lay on the sounds, as opposed to simply playing one record after the other."

Just playing records isn't going to cut it in terms of Farina's larger artistic goals. He's currently working on his debut album of original material, which he hopes to release in the fall. (His latest mix album, "Mushroom Jazz 4," came out on Om Records in November.) "I do feel some pressure," says Farina. "Since a lot of people have heard me spin, they probably expect the same kind of quality in my own [records]."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Farina's faves

Jazzy Eyewear, "Tell About It," single (So Sound)

Midas, "Mos Steppin'/Ghetto Blaster" EP (Select Entertainment)

Mike Dixon, "Tribute to Bumpin City," single (Bumpin City)

The Littlemen, "Broken in Two," EP (Drop Music)

Phil Weeks, "Yeah I Like That" LP (Robsoul Recordings)

G.S. Crew, "Old Joe," single (G-swing)

Lance Desardi, "The Urban Bourbon," EP (Muzique Boutique)

Dubble-D, "Multiply (Joshua's Dub)," single (20:20 Vision)

Kaskade, "In This Life," single (Society Heights)

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Mark Farina

Where: Deep at Sixteen-Fifty, 1650 Schrader Blvd., Hollywood

When: Sunday, 9 p.m.

Cost: $20

Info: (323) 960-2088

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